Cambridge Punting Tours are a Must Do In Cambridge. It is an excellent way to see all of the iconic views of the Colleges. Punting can be a very nice and relaxing experience. It is also a very touristy thing to do–almost like a gondola ride in Venice.
There are two ways to do Cambridge Punting Tours. You can hire a punt and try to get yourself down the river yourself or you can sit in the punt and have someone chauffeur you around the river. Unless, of course, you have a friend who knows how to punt.
For more things to do 8 Best Things to Do in Cambridge UK
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How (Not) to Punt
A punt is a flat-bottomed boat that you push along the river using a very long pole. You are supposed to stick the pole straight down and then push off the bottom of the river. And, off you go.
I have been punting twice with Cynthia and Norman, friends from the UK. Norman has been punting since he attended Downing College in Cambridge 50+ years ago. I had a try while I was there. I didn’t realize how heavy the pole was. Watch the video below to see how I did.
After getting the pole out of the trees, I managed to avoid the wall. No worries, I had already experienced hitting the wall twice. Shortly there after, I was almost knocked off the boat as I neglected to duck down with the pole as we went under a bridge. Then we we hit by another punter and turned completely around. It was time to hand the pole back to Norman.
It was great fun. And, next time, I’ll leave the punting to those that know more how to do it.
History of Punting
Punts were created for traversing shallow water. Personally, I prefer to kayak in shallow waters but I don’t think there were kayaks in the UK in medieval times when punts first came into use. In those times, punts were use for transporting goods, fishing and hunting. Around the mid- to late-1800s, punting became a recreational activity.
To see another one of my adventures on the water, read this post on kayaking in Antarctica.
I like to think about the many famous Cambridge graduates punting in the same waters (hopefully more successfully). Charles Darwin in a punt thinking about evolution. Alan Turing conceptualizing the computer. Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein arguing about philosophy. Jane Goodall working on her PhD thesis on chimpanzees. Or even Emma Thompson, Tilda Swinton or Ian McKellen working on a soliloquy.
The Cam River is not the only place for punting. It is also done in Oxford and a few other places in the UK.
Views from the “Backs”
Doing Cambridge Punting Tours gives you the best views of “the backs” of some of the iconic views in Cambridge–Trinity, Kings, St. Johns, Queen’s, Mathematical Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs and others. You can also see these sites by walking “the backs” which are essentially the other side of the river Cam. The Backs are also where you will see the famous Cambridge cows.
10 Tips for Cambridge Punting Tours
- If you’ve never punted before, hire a chauffeur. It is not as easy as it looks. Plus, the river gets very crowded and it becomes hard to navigate for a new punter.
- If you do self-hire, you will have a smaller boat and you should expect to get bumped into by the larger chauffeured boats. I found the chauffeurs to be very impatient with new punters.
- Saturday afternoon in the summer is the worst time to go. Tourists flock to Cambridge on the weekends. Try to go during the week.
- Bring snacks and a bottle of wine. Or, if you want to be very English, Pimms and strawberries.
- There are a lot of punting companies in Cambridge so check out prices and times before you purchase. The first thing to decide if whether you are doing self hiring or chauffeur.
- Most of the punts fit 12 people, though there are smaller punts for 6 people. If you decide to chauffeur, you will likely be sharing a punt. Or, you can privately hire the punt, but it will be more expensive.
- The Lower Cam has the iconic sites. The Upper Cam is picturesque and less crowded. The punt does a round trip so you’ll need to decide which area you want to do before you purchase your tickets.
- Bring your camera. You can get excellent photos from a punt.
- You can punt in almost any weather. We saw a lot of people with umbrellas and rain jackets on punts. If the weather is bad, by all means, do it. I’ve heard that punting in the winter can be quite beautiful (and cheaper and less crowded).
- Punting is very safe, especially if you are not self hiring. Just remember to duck before the bridges! I almost forgot and had to scramble to get the pole down low enough.
Have you ever punted? Did you hit a wall?